Brown cow looks directly at camera

Eating animals: a meaty problem?

Can we establish a food policy based on sustainable development?

Does it matter how much meat you eat? Should countries try to limit consumption? How might eating more meat affect our health? Look at the data below and think about what it says about meat consumption, then look at the suggested solution.

Issue 1: Water consumption

The water footprint is the amount of water used directly and indirectly to make a product. The graph below shows the water footprint for several types of food and drink. They are calculated as a global average because variations in farming techniques etc across the world mean that water footprints can vary for products according to where they are made. Water footprints are more than the water contained within something. For example, one litre of beer has a water footprint of around 300 litres. Although the beer contains water, most of its footprint is due to the water needed to produce the barley that’s in the beer. Source: waterfootprint.org

See also: The Crunch: How much water do you eat?

Graph showing water footprints of different foodstuffs

Graph 1: Water footprints of different foodstuffs

Credit:

Adapted from waterfootprint.org

Issue 2: Meat consumption

Meat consumption per person in different countries over time (kg/year)

Table 1: Meat consumption per person in different countries over time (kg/year)

Credit:

Adapted from guardian.co.uk/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/meat-consumption-per-capita-climate-change

In the UK we ate, on average, nearly 80 kg of meat per person in 2002 – around 12.5 stones! Although this level is relatively high, it has remained roughly stable since the 1960s. In other countries, such as China, meat consumption has increased as people become richer. Now, the Chinese government is taking steps to reduce meat consumption by 50 per cent, much to the delight of campaigners against climate change. 

See also: Guardian – China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered by climate campaigners

Meat consumption per person in different countries over time (kg/year)

Graph 2: Meat consumption per person in different countries over time (kg/year)

Credit:

Adapted from theguardian.com/environment/datablog/2009/sep/02/meat-consumption-per-capita-climate-change

Issue 3: Childhood obesity

There’s no graph for this section, but we’ve provided the data needed to draw your own (see table, below). A standard graph and questions on this section can be found in our lesson idea notes.

Proportion of schoolchildren aged 7-18 in large cities in China who are classified as overweight or obese.

Table 2: Proportion of schoolchildren aged 7–18 in large cities in China who are classified as overweight or obese

Credit:

Adapted from bmj.com/content/333/7564/362.full

 

Potential solution

The Big Picture Institute of Food Policy has proposed a solution to the issues illustrated by the graphs and data above.

Solution

Lab bench to barbecue: The government increases funding for research into bioengineered (‘cultured’) meat.

Pros

  • Scientists might be able to control the amount of protein, fat and other nutrients in this meat.
  • Could produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than current meat-production methods.

Cons

  • People might be uncomfortable about eating cultured meat.
  • We don’t just use animals for meat and milk, but also use their wool, skins and fleeces for leather, and their dung for fuel and fertiliser.

Lead image:

Spike Stitch/Flickr CC BY NC ND

References

Questions for discussion

  • Can come up with more pros and cons of your own? For another potential solution and more pros and cons, download our ‘Feast or Famine?’ cards below.

Downloadable resources

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Food and Diet’ in June 2011 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Topics:
Ecology and environment, Biotechnology and engineering
Issues:
Food and Diet, Proteins
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development